cover image Wartime Lies

Wartime Lies

Louis Begley. Knopf Publishing Group, $19 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40016-5

The ``lies'' in this haunting, powerful Holocaust novel are not just the Nazis' monstrous racialist myths, but also the personal fictions adopted by their victims in order to survive. Two such survivors are orphaned nine-year-old Maciek and his sharp-tongued aunt, Tania. Posing as Catholic Poles to hide their Jewish identity, constantly on the move, they witness slaughter in the Warsaw Ghetto from a nearby rooftop and, later, break ranks on a march to cattle cars destined for Auschwitz. As narrator, Maciek speaks in a voice much more mature than his years alone suggest, yet his simple matter-of-factness lends a keen moral edge to his observations on the bestiality and irrationality around him. Just as the war ends, Poles carry out a bloody pogrom, and both nephew and aunt assume new surnames, living under new lies. Scattered italicized passages summoning up Dante and Virgil suggest the enormity of evil, a superfluous device in this searing story of the quest for an authentic self in an insane world. (May)